Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer owns everything in the Twiverse.
A/N: Thank you all SO MUCH for your thoughts and prayers for my Hubby. They truly warmed my heart.
I am SO nervous about this chapter because I never intended things to go in this direction. I hope you enjoy what I've done, and I thank you again for your understanding, patience, and support.
Chapter 40: In Flight
Call it bravado.
Call it naïveté.
Call it stupidity.
But something had convinced me that going to Volterra to confront the ancient trio who ruled the vampiric world would be a capital idea. And if that weren't enough, my confidence had convinced my husband and his family to tag along.
I was betting our lives that it was not the latter.
I rode in pensive silence with my head on Edward's shoulder as we sped toward the hangar located a few miles beyond the Canadian border. I didn't ask why we passed so quickly through the security checkpoint, as Esme and Jasper's urgent phone calls before our departure were explanation enough. But I did notice the appreciative glance Carlisle received from the uniformed guard as we crossed into British Columbia.
The car came to a stop, and I was whisked onto a plane so luxurious that I wished I had showered before boarding. The 737 was outfitted in a soothing palette of cream and gold with a few grounding touches of onyx. There was a flat screen television suspended from the ceiling and, if the printed menu was any indication, a five-star chef stashed in the back. As I sank into my cushy captain's chair, I began to see the distinct advantages to being a Cullen.
I clicked my seatbelt into place, and Edward smiled at me. As he took my hand and kissed it, my confidence in the rightness of my decision increased. We were a family, and the immortal world needed to know that it couldn't attack us at will and expect us to lie there and take it.
If we had to go down, we would go down swinging.
Kate was piloting our magnificent vessel, and as she announced herself on the loudspeaker, I noticed that Carlisle and Esme were holding hands where they stood in the aisle. Eleazar and Carmen had drawn closer together while Jasper and Alice had formed a trio with Tanya. I was about to ask Edward what was happening when reverent Slavic murmuring filled the cabin. Mine were the only eyes open, so I shut them before anyone noticed.
I would really have to get used to all this spiritual fervor.
After her prayer, Kate wished us an uneventful flight and then a complicated aria replaced her voice overhead. The melody was reassuring despite its intricacies, and I was grateful that she hadn't selected something slow and somber.
That wasn't the sort of atmosphere we needed.
Edward was still holding my hand, and his amber eyes were intense as they studied mine. "I love you."
"You say that to all your wives."
He barked a startled laugh. "Believe me, Love. You are all the wife I can handle."
"I'll bet she is," came the remark from the other side of the plane.
"Sorry, Bella," he chuckled. "Emmett made me promise to pick up his slack."
"If we weren't already facing a life-or-death situation," I said, "I would kill you both."
Carlisle and Eleazar laughed, but Edward stiffened beside me.
"I like your style, cara," Carmen called out.
"I told you she was born to be one of us," Alice added before turning to her husband. "But be forewarned, Major. Rosalie deputized me to take her place on this trip, and I am thrice the bitch she is."
Jasper pinched her waist. "I'm going to tell her you said that."
"I'm not scared of Rosalie," she insisted.
"And I'll tell her you said that."
As the Whitlocks' banter left the rest of us behind, I looked at Edward. "You didn't like my joke," I said.
He forced a smile. "It was hilarious."
I cocked an eyebrow, and he sighed. "I don't want to insult you."
His grip on my hand tightened. "How can you be so calm about this? The Volturi don't make mistakes, and they don't give reprieves. If we are found guilty, we will be destroyed." He closed his eyes. "And the thought of losing you is..."
"You won't lose me."
He grimaced. "How can you be so sure?"
"I'm not," I replied, and his eyes popped open. "But there's no point in dwelling on what can go wrong. If the Volturi are as formidable as you say, then our goose could be cooked either way. And if this is it, then I want to see Italy before I die."
"Wow," I heard Jasper say, his audibility a testament to his surprise.
I knew the whole plane could hear me, and that was part of the point. I needed them to know that human or not, I was neither delusional nor suicidal.
I was determined.
Now that the fog had cleared after the showdown in the field, I knew that I could trust Edward with my life. And if flying to Volterra truly meant certain death, neither he nor the rest of the family would have agreed to my plan. He was just scared, scared in a way that only someone who has lived two human lifetimes could be. And I respected his fears, understood them to a degree. But I had made an informed decision, and come what may, I would stand by it until the end.
Even if that end was only a few hours away.
Edward was silent as he studied me, his focused gaze stinging my retinas. Recognizing his scheme, I stared back and did my best not to blink. Before long, my fierce expression cracked his concentration.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm opening my mind so you can finally read it," I replied. "The eyes are the window, so…"
"That's to the soul," he interjected.
"You see one, you see the other." I widened my eyes with my fingers and gaped at him. "Is it working?"
He tried to remain serious, but the corners of his mouth lifted in spite of him. "You're crazy."
I touched the tip of his nose. "Says the guy who can read minds."
He caught my finger and kissed it. "You married me."
"That's true." I smiled. "Maybe I am crazy."
"You are." I shivered as his lips brushed the back of my hand. "And I am so glad."
I didn't plan to fall asleep, but with all of Edward's amorous attention, it could not have been helped. His touch always relaxed me, and once he started humming our honeymoon song, I was a goner.
As I tried to stretch myself awake, I realized that I was alone in our little alcove, his peacoat serving as my blanket. I could hear his voice up ahead along with those of the other male passengers, discussing world politics and the coming shifts in the global economy.
I tuned them out as I checked my watch and slumped back in the chair. Maybe it was the new air pressure or the change in time zones, but I still felt sluggish. I had gotten a semi-decent night's sleep and just finished a three-hour nap. So why I was still tired?
A runaway thought sped through my brain, and I jolted upright as I tried to catch it.
That could not be.
Corresponding images unleashed a swarm of angry bees in my belly, and I clamped a hand over my mouth to quarantine my shock. With my free hand, I fished my phone out of my pocket and sent a desperate text message.
Before long, Alice appeared at my side. She slid into Edward's seat and pressed a red button overhead. "This stereo isn't as powerful as the one at home," she whispered, "but it will do the job if we keep our voices down."
I blew out a wary breath and braced myself. "Is it possible?"
"Are you late?"
"No," I said. "But I'm not on anything because I married a vampire. And I feel like my eating and sleeping habits are all jacked up lately."
"I think that has more to do with almost being murdered and watching your father fight for his sanity than anything else," she offered.
"Is that the best you can do?"
Alice pursed her perfect lips and sat very still. As I watched her, my heartbeat increased to the point of near panic, and I think she finally spoke just to stave off my heart attack.
"During the wedding planning process," she began, "I started scanning your future just in case. But I didn't see anything, not even a close call."
"Then why do you look so nervous?"
"Because you and Edward always defy the odds," she exclaimed in a tense whisper. "I don't know another vampire who not only didn't kill his singer but married and made love to her while she was still human. And no other human has a two-and-oh record against vampires who have tried to kill her. So regardless of what I saw or didn't see, I know that if any human-vampire pair could sire a hybrid child, it would be you and my brother."
I fell back against the seat as Alice's words echoed in my heart.
If any human-vampire pair could sire a child, it would be Edward and me.
Edward and me.
Creating a child.
A half-lion, half-lamb.
My vision blurred as I looked at Alice.
"I know." Her golden eyes deepened. "Such a child would be a miracle."
Her gentle tone caressed my soul, and I held fast to her last word.
If Edward and I somehow created a child, it would definitely be a miracle.
A living, precious miracle even greater than our love itself.
"Bella," Alice suddenly said, "think about something else."
"What?" I blinked back to reality. "Why?"
"Because Aro will hear every thought you've ever had," she insisted. "And this subject is forbidden."
"But our child wouldn't be immortal," I argued. "At least, not in the eternally-uncontrollable-newborn sense."
"Are you really splitting hairs about this?" she insisted. "We could be talking about your life here."
"So I'm not allowed to wonder if my husband and I could make a baby because Aro might find out?" I cried. "That's ridiculous!"
My outburst must have overpowered the sound system because my husband soon interrupted our conversation. His eyes were unreadable as he glanced between us, but his sudden arrival made me feel foolish and exposed.
"Alice." I looked away as he addressed her. "May I have a moment alone with my wife?"
She nodded and vacated his chair. "I was just trying to help."
"I know," he smiled. "Thank you."
I watched Alice's retreat, refusing to look at Edward as he reclaimed his seat. His gaze was burning a hole on the right side of my face, so I hid behind my hands.
Because that's what girls who run with vampires do.
"Can we change the subject?"
"I think it's a tad late for that."
I peeked at him through my fingers. "Did everyone hear?"
He reached for my hands and peeled them from my eyes. "Why don't we focus on what I didn't hear?"
I cringed as he uncovered my blushing face. "I feel like I've been especially tired lately. I started wondering why, and my mind came up with the idea of a baby. I texted Alice and…" My hand trailed off to finish the sentence.
"Did she see anything?"
"No," I said quickly. "But I asked her if it were possible, and she never answered that question. But she said our baby would be a miracle, and she was right. So then I started to…"
"Ahhh," he groaned. "This is so wrong."
"I know." I toyed with my wedding band. "We're on our way to Volterra, and now is not the time for…"
"Bella, no. It's…" His flawless features creased in anguish as he sighed. "I have been so careless. So thoughtless and reckless."
"What are you…"
He didn't hear me. "Everything happened so quickly that it just slipped my mind. But how? How could I have let that happen? How could I have…"
"Edward." I cupped his cool cheeks and tilted his head upward. "Talk to me."
He started at my touch, blinking as if he'd forgotten I was there. After a moment, he laid his hands on top of mine. "Forgive me."
He closed his eyes. "For risking your life."
"I don't understand."
He brought our hands to his lap, his sweet sigh tainted with regret. "For so long, the idea of being with you, of making love to you was a dream beyond comprehension." His words slid across my skin like distressed silk, enticing me despite their seriousness. "But once it became a possibility, my only concern became your comfort and safety. The prospect of you being hurt by our lovemak…"
"But I'm fine." I pulled up my sleeves and showed him my bare arms. "See? Not a bruise to be found."
"No, that's…." He took my hands again as I reached for the collar on my shirt. "Bella, any child we created would be half-you and half-me."
I couldn't prevent my smile as I caressed his fingers. "I know."
"The child would have half my genetic code." His voice hardened as it dropped in volume. "And my dietary needs."
He watched me and waited, and then I gasped. "The baby would drink blood."
"Even in the womb."
He nodded again.
"So that would mean…"
"That our child would feed off of you as it grew," he said flatly. "Likely killing you in the process."
His malediction caused me to shiver, but I refused to be afraid. "So what do we do?"
"What do you mean?"
"I had assumed that you couldn't get me pregnant, so I'm not on anything."
"I know." He shook his head. "And I am so sorry that I didn't think of it. I probably would have realized the necessity of it later on, but I was so focused on proposing that I…"
"And for all my plotting behind your back," I interjected. "I didn't think of it either. But now we have to face all possibilities. And if I'm pregnant…"
"Do you think you are?"
I shrugged. "I haven't felt like myself lately, but the past few days have been anything but typical."
His eyes were blazing. "But if you are?"
"If I am," I said slowly, "then we will do whatever we can to take care of the baby and me."
"And if we can't save you both?"
My mind went blank at the question, and I tried to speak without success.
"Oh, Bella." He pulled me into his arms before I had the chance to blink, rocking us back and forth as our thoughts spiraled in the silence. It was unthinkable to end the life of a child that our love created. But I had already survived two attempts to abort the future I had planned with Edward, and I could not fathom succumbing to a third.
The twin truths were impossible to reconcile.
"I love you," Edward said as he kissed my hair. "And if we ever face such a decision, I promise to love and support you, no matter what choice you make."
"But your opinion matters as much as mine," I said. "And I would never want you to feel left out of the process."
"We are one," he said firmly. "And I trust you with my life, your life, and any one we might make together."
His complete faith in me rocked me to my core, and I turned around to face him. He was surprised by my kiss but eager to return it, and I slipped my hands around his neck to deepen the moment.
"Thank you," I said when I was forced to come up for air.
He smoothed the hair around my face. "For what?"
I didn't know how to express the depth of my feelings, so I pressed my lips to his again. His sweetness invaded my mouth as he sighed, drawing me closer to him and further away from that perilous bridge I prayed we would never have to cross.
After our emotions subsided, Edward escorted me the lounge where everyone else was gathered. The plane was on auto-pilot, and between Alice's clairvoyance and Kate's quick reflexes, we were in no real danger of crashing.
As I was the only passenger who needed daily sustenance, a generous serving of penne arrabbiata awaited me at the table. After everyone assured me that the aroma wouldn't bother them, I started on my late dinner as Carlisle started the meeting.
"Alice tells me that the heliport in Volterra is being prepared," he said. "So Aro knows we are coming."
"And so it begins," Eleazar said.
"Who do you think will meet us?" Edward asked.
"Felix and Demetri," Carlisle said. "And Santiago, perhaps."
The name was unfamiliar to me. "Is he gifted?"
"No," Edward replied. "Just large."
"Will there be preliminaries?" Jasper asked. "Or will the summit begin immediately?"
"I can't tell," Alice frowned. "They're blocking those decisions."
"That means they're up to something," Kate said.
"Maybe not," Esme said. "It is possible that Aro will reserve judgment until he has all the facts."
"So he needs Tanya," Kate said.
"And Bella," Edward added with a long look at me.
"Do you think he'll be able to read my mind?" I asked.
"That's a good question," Alice said. "No one has ever done so."
"You two have."
Alice shook her head. "I see the results of your decisions not the decisions themselves. It's close but not the same thing."
"And my gift influences the physiological shifts your emotions produce," Jasper said. "I work the body not the mind."
Edward frowned at his word suggestive choice, but his Emmett-like behavior was the least of my concerns. "So my thoughts might remain private?"
"Yes," Esme replied. "You are most likely immune to Aro's gift."
"And Jane's," Edward sighed with relief.
"Jane?" I asked.
"She plants an illusion of pain your mind," Eleazar said. " And you feel like you're being burned alive."
"Sort of like the change?"
All eyes fell on Edward as my question hovered in the air. He hesitated briefly and then nodded. "Yes. Like an excruciating sample of the change."
"Have you ever experienced it?" I pressed. "From Jane, I mean?"
"No." He twirled the end of my braid around his finger. "But the memory through Eleazar's thoughts was convincing enough." Our eyes met for a moment, and then he turned to his father. "So she's safe?"
Carlisle steepled his fingers in front of his mouth. "From the sound of it, she should be safe from any mental attacks."
In other words, if the Volturi used traditional methods, I was toast. Edward caught the distinction and inched closer to me.
"What about Laurent?" Carmen asked. "Will we get to avenge Irina's death?"
"That is harder to say," Carlisle admitted. "Unless Laurent has falsely accused us, I can think of no reason for Aro to order his destruction."
"But he killed our sister!" Tanya cried.
"And she was his mate," Carlisle replied. "Sadly, there are no laws against that."
"She was not his mate," Kate hissed. "She was a disillusioned girl who saw what she wanted to see."
"I'm sorry," Carlisle said.
Kate began muttering under her breath, and I didn't need a translator to know that she wasn't praying this time.
"Would they offer him asylum?" Tanya asked with more composure.
"Laurent has no gifts and no honor," Eleazar said. "He is unfit for the guard and will be released after the trial."
The last forkful of pasta turned to dust in my mouth. "Trial?"
"Not the way you're thinking, cara," Carmen explained. "The Volturi hold court in the private central chamber where interruptions are forbidden. We call them 'trials' for lack of a better word."
"I can think of a better word," Tanya growled.
"Aro will secure our promise that Laurent will leave Volterra alive," Eleazar continued tightly. "Murder is forbidden within the city walls."
"He will be a pile of ash by dawn!" Kate cried.
I caught a look between Carlisle and Jasper before the room's emotional climate came down a few degrees. Carmen nodded her thanks as she rose to comfort Kate.
"Anything else?" Edward asked.
"We remain calm no matter what," Carlisle said. "No outbursts, no rash decisions, and no heroism."
Whatever Edward heard in his father's thoughts made him bristle beside me. "I will not let anyone hurt Bella."
"We will all protect each other," Carlisle said.
"She is human," he fumed. "Does that not make her the priority?"
"It does," Esme replied. "Without question."
"But antagonizing Aro will not keep her or anyone else safe," Jasper admonished. "Tell me you see that."
Edward exhaled through flared nostrils but did not disagree.
"Marcus will see the strength of our bonds, and Aro will test them," Carlisle continued. "But if we maintain our composure, he will realize that our family is unbreakable."
"Aro has coveted Edward and Alice for decades." This was my lone concern. "You honestly think he'll just let them waltz in and out of his lair just because we minded our manners?"
"Aro may be a power-hungry parasite," Eleazar replied, "but he is a purist, a strict keeper of the law. If we are found faultless, he would not risk his reputation by harming us without cause."
I stifled an eye-roll as I sipped my Cherry Coke.
"I know the Volturi seem menacing to you," Carlisle said. "And I concede that amassing such a talented guard has given Aro a minor god-complex. But by crushing uprisings and other threats to our secrecy, they allow us to co-exist with humans undetected, and for that, we are in their debt. And we must believe in their goodness."
He ignored the scoffing around the table as he continued. "Going to Volterra was the right decision, Bella. And I believe that all will be well."
I had another question that I wanted to ask, but as I opened my mouth, an ill-timed yawn overtook me.
"If there is nothing else," Edward said as he rose, "we need to get to bed."
"Joining the mile-high club?" Jasper smirked. "There's room for two more members."
Edward ignored him. "Bella needs to rest. She may not get another chance once we land."
"Of course," Carlisle said. "We'll see you both in the morning."
I shook my head. "I'm fi—"
A second yawn interrupted my protest, and Edward helped me to my feet and ushered me toward the back of the plane. "Good night, all," I mumbled.
Everyone replied in kind, except Jasper who reiterated that Kate could handle any turbulence Edward and I created. Alice whacked him, mostly likely in the head if she were channeling Rosalie, and the thought made me smile as Edward and I ducked behind the black jacquard curtain.
The pillow-topped bed was large and lush and nothing less than I would have expected on a Cullen jet. I grew more interested in sleep upon the sight of it, but as Edward bent over to fluff its pillows, my priorities wholly shifted. And in spite of my profound sense of modesty, I was warming to the idea of rolling around with my husband at forty thousand feet.
Maybe I was crazy.
Edward must have sensed my stare because he returned to me and took my hands. "May I help you?"
I smiled. "That's my line."
"We are one now," he said a second time, caressing the side of my face. "And what's yours is mine."
I reached for his belt buckle and tugged him closer. "Is that so?"
"Definitely." His eyes darkened as a low hiss escaped him. "Shall I prove it you?"
My tongue slid across my teeth as I leaned in, and I frowned. "Ew."
"I need a toothbrush." Or some really strong gum. "My teeth feel like they're wearing a mohair sweater."
He chuckled and kissed my forehead. "Your travel bag is in the bathroom next to the sink."
"I thought you said that a suitcase wouldn't be necessary."
"I did," he replied. "Then I thought better of it and grabbed a two-day."
"I keep several travel bags packed for you," he shrugged. "Their contents vary based on the estimated length of stay, climate, and occasion, and for this trip, I thought one of the two-day satchels would be…"
"Are you serious?" With everything going on, this was the most surprising thing I'd heard so far.
"Quite." He frowned as I stepped back. "Is something wrong?"
I shook my head as I walked toward the bathroom. "You never cease to amaze me."
I took my time as I searched through the meticulously organized bag. He truly had packed everything I could possibly need, and my heart swelled at the realization. But as I sat down on the porcelain seat marveling at my remarkable man, I soon realized something else.
Edward and I would not have to choose between me and a baby.
I located the necessary supplies and changed into my sweats, I returned to the sleeping compartment. Edward was curled on his side on top of the bed, fiddling with the controls on the electric blanket. He looked up at me with eyes as soft as a moonlit night, and I knew that he knew.
He patted the empty space next to him. "Come here."
I padded toward him in my thick socks and scooted backwards onto the bed. Edward pulled me toward him and covered my legs with the blanket, kissing my hair as I snuggled closer.
"Did you pack some of those in all my bags?"
"Yes." He cleared his throat. "I wanted to account for every possibility."
We fell silent then, the only sounds coming from the front of the plane.
"I'm sorry," he said after a moment.
"Why? This was the outcome we wanted."
His voice sounded strange, so I turned in his arms to face him. His hands continued their gentle trail up and down my arm, but he kept his eyes down.
He shook his head as if clearing it of an unwanted thought, and his refusal to look at me began to suggest something I had never considered.
"Edward, did you…" I swallowed past the ginormous lump that rose in my throat. "Did you want to have children with me?"
The silence between us stretched and flexed until it filled the small space between us. The truth flooded my mind as I waited for his reply, and my heart was already aflame when he finally dragged his molten gold eyes to mine.
"Mason has your fearlessness and passion for books." His voice was so low that I could barely hear it. "And his thick brown hair is a constant torment as he refuses to let you cut it. Annabelle, on the other hand, keeps us on our toes with her quick wit and penchant for mischief. But her teasing brown eyes keep me from punishing her with any regularity."
The vision saturated my mind with its detailed sweetness, stinging my eyes with emotion.
"How could I not want children with you, Bella?" he murmured. "How could I not ache to see your warm belly swelling with proof of our love's work?" He laid his hand on my abdomen, the icy touch igniting my skin. "Fantasizing about our children is my secret indulgence in the dark, an alternative reality in which I live while you lie asleep beside me."
I bit my lip as I tried to form a coherent sentence. "Why didn't you tell me?"
His amber eyes shifted once more, and in them I read everything he would not say. And as our fictional family faded from immediate view, I couldn't stop the few tears that slid down my face.
"Oh, Bella." His cool knuckles brushed the warm moisture from my cheeks. "If only I were human…"
"Then you would have died before I was born," I sniffled. "And then where would I be?"
His eyes were dry, but his sadness matched my own. "I don't know what to say."
"Don't say anything," I whispered. "Just hold me."
A low groan rumbled in his chest as he rolled me on top of him. I had intended to tuck my head into the crook of his neck, but his anguished moan brought me to his mouth. Our lips were desperate as they met and melded, seeking solace for the loss of a life we would never have.
I had never wanted kids and still didn't, to be honest. But knowing that I could never carry Edward's child inside me was sobering and devastating.
Gradually our lips came to a soft stop, and I tucked myself into my favorite nook at Edward's side as he pulled the blanket up to my shoulders.
"I'll go see my doctor when we get home," I said after a while. "Or maybe I should talk to Carlisle first."
He nodded. "I'm sure he has some recommendations."
"Wait!" I sat up as something else crossed my mind. "Won't this be a problem in Volterra?"
"My… current condition."
"Oh." He leaned up on his elbows. "Well, you have to understand that…"
"And everyone will know!" My cheeks reddened in embarrassment. "Great. Of all the times to be surrounded by vampires..."
"Relax, Love. As it happens, you are probably safer from their advances than ever." My confusion was evident, but I didn't interrupt. "For starters, that's not really blood. At least, not entirely."
I had a flashback of sixth grade health class and cringed.
"And because your body chemistry changes during menstruation"—even Edward couldn't erase the unpleasantness of that word—"your fragrance isn't nearly as alluring right now."
I was surprised to be insulted by his comment about my scent. "So this is a good thing?"
He kissed my temple. "The very best."
I was still self-conscious about my proximity to so many superhuman noses, but knowing that I was actually in less danger was of some comfort. And I would take whatever reassurances I could get right now.
He smoothed my hair. "Would you like to sleep?"
"Yes," I sighed. "But I think I'll need your help."
Edward cradled me closer and began to hum my lullaby, carrying away traces of my anxiety with each soothing note. And as I drifted closer to unconsciousness, I allowed myself the hope of seeing Mason and Annabelle in my dreams. And added a fervent wish that Edward would come and meet us there too.
A/N: I had NO INTENTION of the newlyweds having the baby discussion right now... or ever for that matter. It just wasn't on my radar for this story. But Bella had other ideas, and I think the conversation brought them closer. What do you think?
And pardon me, I forgot to rec this AMAZING story I've just discovered by Stoney Angel, "Darker Shade of Twilight." It honestly brought tears to my eyes at times, and the way she writes our favorite characters is just spectacular. Do yourself a favor and read this story!